Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Fireworks are toxic to your health...

Families from around the United States will travel in droves tomorrow to see firework displays and even more will participate at home with sparklers and roman candles. But many don't realize that the chemicals used in these fireworks can cause a number of health problems and cause long standing environmental damage as well.

After fireworks displays, air levels of trace minerals  such as strontium, magnesium, barium, potassium, and copper increased a minimum of 6 times the normal amount present. In addition many toxic particles are released into the air and suspended in a cloud for ingestion by the crowds. These suspended particles not only cause pollution in the environment but they can also irritate the lining of the lungs and cause  conditions such as asthma and allergies. One study found that sparklers can create a burst of ozone that is highly reactive and can irritate the lining of the lungs. Read more about how sparklers can harm your children. Another found that exposure to sulfur dioxide, a main component in fireworks, has been related to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) as well. Click here to find out how fireworks can raise your child's risk of SIDS.

Below find a chart about some of the chemicals in fireworks and some of the toxic effects associated:

Toxic Element
Fireworks Usage
Toxic Effect of Fallout Dust & Fumes
brilliant whites
Contact dermatitis, bioaccumulation
Antimony sulfide
glitter effects
Toxic smoke, possible carcinogen
Arsenic compounds
Used as colorants. Sadly still out there. [3]
Toxic ash can cause lung cancer, skin irritation and wart formation.
Barium Nitrate
glittering greens
Poisonous. Fumes can irritate respiratory tract. Possible radioactive fallout. [4]
Copper compounds
Polychlorinated dioxins and dibenzofurans. [5] Can bioaccumulate. Cancer risk.
Hexachlorobenzene (HCB)[5]
Use was supposed to be banned globally.
Persistent environmental toxin. Is a carcinogen, mutagen and a reproductive hazard [13].
Lead Dioxide / Nitrate / Chloride
Bioaccumulation, developmental danger for kids & unborn babes, may remain airborne for days, poisonous to plants & animals
Lithium compounds
blazing reds
Toxic and irritating fumes when burned
Mercury (Mercurous chloride)
chlorine donor
Toxic heavy metal. Can bioaccumulate.
Nitric oxide
fireworks byproduct [6]
Toxic by inhalation. Is a free radical
Nitrogen dioxide
fireworks byproduct [6]
Highly toxic by inhalation. SIDS risk [8].
fireworks byproduct [7]
Greenhouse gas that attacks & irritates lungs
Perchlorate -
Ammonium & Potassium
propellant / oxidizer
Can contaminate ground & surface waters, can cause thyroid problems in humans & animals
Potassium Nitrate
in black powder
Toxic dusts, carcinogenic sulfur-coal compounds
Strontium compounds
blazing reds
Can replace calcium in body. Strontium chloride is slightly toxic.
Sulfur Dioxide
gaseous byproduct of sulfur combustion
Acid rain from sulphuric acid affects water sources, vegetation & causes property damage. SIDS risk [8].

So if you must view fireworks displays, please please PLEASE participate in the following healthy habits:

1) Find another option to celebrate. Rather than participate in fireworks displays many options exist as an alternative such as Laser Light Shows, LED Stunt Kite displays, electronic and indoor fireworks displays with the use of a canopy, and many families are opting out of fireworks for block parties and community drumming circles in celebration of the 4th.

2) Don't set off home fireworks. Most of the fireworks that can be purchased cheaply from the store contain many of the toxic elements in the chart above and can cause health risks such as lung irritation, SIDS,  thyroid and hormone conditions, and even cancer. You're better off attending a display with a seat far from the action than having these chemicals close at hand and mouth.

3) Beware of imported fireworks. We've seen example after example of China putting cheap and harmful ingredients in the products they ship overseas. Many of the additives being used in Chinese fireworks are cheaper, more toxic, and these fireworks don't have mandated standards from the American Fireworks Standards Laboratory (AFSL).

4) Take a seat far from the main action. Since fireworks are overhead for the crowds to see and the cloud of toxic particles and harmful gases tend to stay around the main area where they were set off, get your family a seat far from the action.

5) Brush your teeth after viewing fireworks. The sulfur dioxide found in fireworks has been known to cause tooth erosion and decay so removing this from your teeth can help prevent long lasting damage.

6) Talk to your city and state officials about concerns for the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. Many fireworks displays have been canceled due to environmental groups up-holding these standards. This will leave way for many of the fireworks alternative options mentioned above.

7) Educate your family and friends about the dangers of fireworks. This will spread a need and desire for more health and environmentally friendly alternatives. Your voice can make a difference in the lives of many others, so SPEAK UP!

[3] Steinhauser, Georg. "Heavy metals from pyrotechnics in New Years Eve snow." Atmospheric Environment Volume 42, Issue 37, December 2008

[4] Steinhauser G and Musilek A. "Do pyrotechnics contain radium?" Environ Res. Lett. 4 034006 July-September 2009 

[5] O. Fleischer. "Release of polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and dibenzofurans by setting off fireworks." Chemosphere Volume 39, Issue 6, September 1999

[6] Russell, Michael S. The Chemistry of Fireworks. 2000 

[7] Attri, Arun K. "Microclimate: Formation of Ozone by Fireworks." Nature Volume 411, June 28, 2001 

[8] Dales, Robert. "Air Pollution and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome." Pediatrics Vol. 113 No. 6 June 2004 

[9] Vecchi, Roberta. "The Impact of Fireworks on Airborne Particles." to appear in Atmospheric Environment 

[10] Moreno, Teresa. "Recreational atmospheric pollution episodes: Inhalable metalliferous particles from firework displays." Atmospheric Environment Volume 41, Issue 5, February 2007 

[11] Godri KJ, Green DC. "Particulate Oxidative Burden Associated with Firework Activity." Environmental Science & Technology, October 1, 2010 

[12] B. Thakur. "Air pollution from fireworks during festival of lights (Deepawali) in Howrah, India - a case study." Atmósfera, Vol 23, No 4, 2010 

[13] "Hexachlorobenzene (HCB) in Fireworks - Guidance Note" The Environment Agency, September 2010